The 2021 Thailand ILCA National Championships saw a record fleet of 55 Laser sailors on the water, with a new generation of serious contenders stepping up to the plate to showcase their skills in sparkling sailing conditions.
■ Hosted by the Royal Varuna Yacht Club and sponsored by Thailand-based Element 6 Evolution (E6), a newly appointed manufacturer of the one-design class boats, the event featured light to medium winds alongside a strong tide, wind shifts and gusts.
Competing for titles were sailors ranging in age from 10 to 80 years, hailing from four Thai sailing clubs and ten countries.
The real thrill was in watching the next generation of top Thai sailors jockey for position on the podium, with Thailand’s Olympic sailors sidelined - two-time male Olympian and decade-long national champion Keerati Bualong now coaching the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand’s ILCA 4.7 fleet, and female Olympian Kamolwan Chanyim off the water due to temporary injury training for Tokyo 2020.
In the ILCA Standard, serious contenders for future Olympic qualification Chusitt Punjamala and Arthit Romanyk did battle in each race, but Chusitt was able to finish in the lead in all but two races. The two have been training partners and respectful competitors on and off the water for most of the past year and both have their hopes on being able to do Thailand proud in a final Asian qualifying event for Tokyo 2020 later this spring, pending re-scheduling by World Sailing as Abu Dhabi was unable to proceed with its postponed championship due to Covid-19 restrictions. Pom Green, director of E6, sailed to an impressive third place.
The ILCA 4.7 fleet was the event’s largest and most exciting to watch, with top youth sailors, some still in the Optimist class, enthusiastically testing their skills in the transition to the Laser class. After much jostling at the top among several sailors, Bowonnan Chanram managed to outsail world stars Panwa Boonag, who finished 2nd, and Weka Bhanubandh, who finished 10th after missing the first day of races due to school. Third place was snatched by Panwa’s sister Thorfun Boonnak.
In the Masters and Grand Masters, battles were no less full of drama and bravado. International Optimist Dinghy Association President Kevin Whitcraft proved he’s not just all about prestigious posts, taking the Grand Master title from two others hot on his wake. In the Great Grand Masters, Marcel Dubbelman managed to beat the determined Richard Vine, founder of the Hua Hin Sailing Club in the ILCA Standard. Final special mentions go to U Thiha, sailing the ILCA Radial as a Great Grand Master, and the indomitable Charlie "The Fox" Zbinden, a local Legend who, at 80 years young, managed to show up several sailors a fraction of his age in his four races.
The event, held in accordance with Thailand’s Covid-19 restrictions, saw touchpoints minimized, all registration and payments done online, and prize giving socially distanced, with the traditional full fleet photo done with masks worn by all.